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24 November 2008


(Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted in its entirety from the November 21 edition of the Birmingham News.)


Singing, Writing, Raising Cattle:
Randy Owen Stays Busy
in His Alabama Home

By Kathy Kemp

Randy Owen has a cattle ranch in northeast Alabama. He also has a new book and solo album.

Randy Owen's home is still in Alabama -- in his hometown of Fort Payne, and in the country band that scored more than 40 No.1 hits in a career spanning three decades.

But long after the group's 2003-04 farewell tour, Owen's not ready to retire to his cattle ranch in the hills of northeast Alabama. Instead, he has penned an autobiography and recorded a solo CD, released simultaneously this month.

Randy Owen
at two events:

Book signing
Monday, Nov. 24
at 7 p.m.
Colonial Brookwood Village

'An Evening With
Randy Owen'

Tuesday, November 25
at 6:30 p.m.
Doubletree Hotel
Downtown Birmingham
Tickets for the latter are $39 and $100.
Call (205) 870-4242 or go to for details.

'All this stuff kind of came together at the same time,' he says. 'I like to have a reason to get up in the morning and be excited about writing and singing and playing songs. The writer in me never stopped. It doesn't take a vacation.'

Owen, who turns 59 next month, is on a promotional tour through mid-December that has taken him to America's big cities and brings him in Birmingham Monday for a couple of events.

He'll sign copies of his book, 'Born Country: How Faith, Family and Music Brought Me Home,' Monday at 7 p.m. at Books-A-Million, Brookwood Village. And Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., he'll appear at the Doubletree Hotel downtown for 'An Evening with Randy Owen,' whose entire proceeds benefit Birmingham Children's Hospital.

Owen is well-known for raising money for sick children, particular those with life-threatening illnesses at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. Throughout his career, Owen has visited St. Jude's children, keeping their cause in the spotlight, while raising money and donating his own.

Two decades ago, he challenged the country music industry to end childhood cancer and other debilitating diseases. The result was an annual, national radiothon, Country Cares for St. Jude Kids, that has raised more than $340 million dollars.

'What I started with St. Jude, I felt was dwindling away,' Owen says. 'I hadn't done anything for country radio in eight years, and I felt like I needed to be out there to continue raising money effectively.'

Months before his CD, 'One on One,' came out, Owen released its first single, 'Braid My Hair,' which tells the story of a young cancer patient who has lost her hair to chemotherapy. She has big plans for recovery: 'I'm gonna go to school, make a friend, be able to run again, take off my mask and just breathe in the air, but most of all, I'm gonna braid my hair.'

The new album shows Owen as the soft-hearted romantic he is. Love songs abound, and Owen wrote or co-wrote, with country star John Rich and others, most of them. Owen's 'Let's Pretend we're Strangers for the Night' is about reigniting a long relationship. In his 'One on One,' Owen finds ways to spice up an already spicy romance.

He says his new work reflects his relationship with his wife, Kelly, who he met when he and Alabama were starting out in the clubs of Myrtle Beach, S.C. They married 33 years ago, when she was 17 and he was 25, and nobody had heard of Alabama. They spent their honeymoon in a Montgomery Motel 6.

The most poignant of Owen's new songs is 'Pray Me Back Home,' which he wrote on the day of 9/11. He and his manager were pulling into Las Vegas as the second hijacked jet hit the second World Trade Center tower. Rumors swirled that terrorists planned to hit other U.S. landmarks, including the Las Vegas Strip.

'I had a room in one of the casinos, like on the 38th floor,' he recalls. 'I just wanted to look out the window, find an American flag and say the Pledge of Alliance.' Phones didn't seem to work. Finally, Kelly got through. 'I told her, 'I may never see you again. I don't know what's going on, but this is a really serious time. I guess the only way you can get me back is to pray me back.'

Owen chose not to release the song then. 'I didn't want to try to make money off the sorrow of my country.' Seven years later, on his solo CD, it has taken on new meaning as the Iraq war goes on. Now, the song is for America's soldiers.

'It's important we don't forget the service of the men and women who've kept our country from being attacked again for the last seven years,' he says. 'Most of them are young people whose names we'll never hear, who will never win an award.'

Owen's love of country, family and music also are the basis of his autobiography, co-written by Allen Rucker. Owen recounts growing up dirt poor, a shy kid who picked cotton and corn alongside his daddy. Though life was hard, he was surrounded by a loving family and by the spectacular playground of nearby Little River Canyon and Lookout Mountain.

'Born Country' chronicles how he teamed with cousins Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook to form Alabama. The threesome hired drummer Mark Herndon and went on to become one of the most successful acts in country music history. The band, with Owen as lead singer, has sold 73 million records and won more than 150 industry awards, including the Academy of Country Music's 'Artist of the Decade' in 1989.

Owen writes about the teachers who helped him and his years at Jacksonville State University. He talks about his children, Alison, who now works for a film company in Nashville; Heath, who works in publishing; and Randa, an Auburn University sophomore who hopes to attend veterinary school. And he tells of close friends, including the late NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt.

Owen's life has not been one big good time. He also writes about his struggles with anxiety, depression and debilitating vertigo, and how faith and family got him through.

'What I've tried to do with the book is let kids who grow up on farms in the sticks know that it's cool to do that; it's cool to be a kid that drives a tractor and raises corn and cotton, and if you want to do something else in life, that's possible, too.'

Owen still runs into his Alabama band mates and seems not to consider the group disbanded. 'People say we broke up, but I don't think of us as apart. When we get together and play music, it's still magical.'

He doesn't say if that will happen publicly anytime soon. Owen seems busy enough at the moment. He and Kelly are gearing up for their annual cattle sale.

'I don't like to sit still,' Owen says. 'I need to do something I love to do and was put on this Earth to do.'

With the new book and CD, it seems like he's just getting started.

(Kathy Kemp is a staff writer for The Birmingham News. E-mail her at


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